Skulla Part Five: Nailuj and Krysbin
Skulla was starting to hit the upper reaches of the Torment difficulties at this point, having finally managed to put his entire Rathma set together for the first time. The enormous 4000% damage bonus from having four skeletal mages in play was enough that he could jump up several difficulty levels at once, and I would be making the transition from Torment VIII to Torment XI in one big hop. If anything, the monsters actually died faster at this new difficulty level even with them having ten times as much health. The Rathma bonus made that big of a difference. The other piece of good news was the greatly increased drop rate of legendary items, which were now appearing at roughly double their previous odds. This was responsible for my very first primal ancient item:
Note the red border around this item, that's how Diablo 3 distinguishes between ancient and primal ancient legendary items. The primal ancient items have perfect stats, the highest possible value in each category, and that makes them the ideal choice to use whenever possible. A character must complete Greater Rift 70 in order for these items to appear at all, which Snowbelle had done during my previous character run, and the odds of a legendary item rolling as primal ancient are supposed to be only 0.2% (1 in 500). It was pretty neat to see one of these items for the first time; I'd been expecting that it would happen at some point for Skulla and this was the first such item to appear.
Now the more important question: was this ring useful enough for Skulla to wear it? The Diablo 3 playerbase seems to have a fascination with primal ancient legendary items, sometimes using them even when it doesn't make a lot of sense to do so. As cool as the red border might look, the stat gains generally aren't that significant as compared to a non-primal ancient item, and landing important unique properties on an item generally takes precedence. For example, it didn't matter how great the stats might have been on another weapon, Skulla was still going to be using the Jesseth Skullscythe regardless because he needed the set bonus for his minions. I spent some time rerolling different modifiers on Krede's Flame at the Enchantress to see what effect the different options might have. This was the ideal time to see which affixes were the best, when I could see what the perfect values in each category would produce. Ultimately I replaced that elemental resistance with a flat damage bonus which proved to do the most to increase damage output. The perfect version of Krede's Flame was indeed better than the Avarice Band that Skulla had been using and I went ahead and made the swap.
As usual, I did a full clear of the bounties on Torment XI difficulty as a way of transitioning into this raised level of challenges. The sequence went smoothly overall and I don't have a lot of screenshots since Skulla didn't find himself in too much danger. This image, taken in the aftermath of a battle against a Gelatinous Spawn, was one of the highlights of this round of quests. On the item side of things, I was able to use the Skill of Nilfur cube recipe to convert an extra pair of gloves in the Rathma set into the one remaining piece that I'd been missing, Rathma's Skull Helm in the helmet slot. It rolled horribly on its stats so I didn't equip it for the moment, continuing to prefer Skulla's current ancient legendary helmet along with the Ring of Royal Grandeur. Sooner or later I'd have to make that switch though, allowing me to drop the Ring of Royal Grandeur for a better item while retaining the Rathma set bonus.
Once I finished those bounties, I had Skulla head back into the Nephalem Rifts so that he could upgrade some of his legendary gems a bit more. With the full Rathma set bonus in effect, he started tearing through the Greater Rifts like they weren't even there. I finished Rift 45 with 10:41 remaining on the clock, then went up to Rift 50 and completed that with 9:43 remaining. There was some good pylon luck in there but it was still pretty clear that Skulla wasn't close to hitting his limits yet. I used these successful rift completions to put additional ranks into the Enforcer gem that added more damage to Skulla's minions, now up to almost double the base amount at about 30% additional damage from pets.
One item that I hadn't planned for was the appearance of this ring, Krysbin's Sentence. It caused Skulla and his minions to deal 95% increased damage against slowed enemies or triple that damage against opponents hit by any other crowd control effects. I hadn't thought about this item at all but realized that it would be a fantastic addition to Skulla's overall setup. His Decrepify curse was slowing monsters in addition to lowering their damage output, and the Bone Spikes that Skulla used for Essence generation also stunned enemies on first contact. Krysbin's Sentence would therefore be a useful way to gain additional damage from Skulla's two weakest skills. I salvaged this item into Kanai's Cube and equipped it as the unique property in the jewelry slot. Now the plan for how to use Skulla's ring slots was starting to come together. I could have him wear either Krysbin's Sentence or Nailuj's Evol and equip the property of the other one from the Cube. This would leave the other ring slot and the amulet slot available for additional unique bonuses, and I thought that there was one particular item set that would fit nicely there:
That would be the Endless Walk set comprised of the Compass Rose ring and the Traveler's Pledge amulet. This particular set grants unique bonuses based on the movement of the character wearing them. While in motion, the character gains a stacking damage reduction bonus that reaches 50% after a few seconds. While standing still, the character gains a stacking damage bonus that eventually hits 100%. The overall fit was fantastic for Skulla: if he needed to dodge and run around for safety then I'd want more damage reduction, and if he was safe enough to be planted in one spot, then I'd want the minions to be dealing more damage. Note that this item set would not have been helpful for Snowbelle, as she was constantly on the move and never stood in place long enough to gain the damage bonus. It was great for Skulla though, who did not want to equip the other option I considered (Focus and Restraint) because it would use up both ring slots and then he wouldn't be able to employ the benefits from both Nailuj and Krysbin. Of course, I still needed to find the Circlet of Nailuj's Evol which was being frustratingly coy thus far.
These new bonuses were in effect for Skulla's next venture into the Greater Rifts. Operating now on Rift 55 difficulty as he continued to work on upgrading his legendary gems, Skulla made good use of the additional damage from the Endless Walk set. On the little interface bar right above his experience gauge, note the little icon of a suit of armor holding a sword with the number "90" on it. This indicated that the damage bonus from the Endless Walk set had been almost completely stacked up, granting the minions a damage bonus of 90%. Correspondingly, over on the right side of the same interface there was an image of a suit of armor holding a shield with the number "5" displayed. This was the damage reduction bonus from the same set, which had decreased down to only 5% thanks to Skulla standing in place and casting curses for the previous few seconds. These two indicators always moved in opposite fashion relative to one another, with the damage bonus inversely proportional to the damage reduction at double the amount. Long story short, Skulla was still flying through these Greater Rifts without coming close to running out of time. He had taken a nominal hit to his stats when he equipped the Endless Walk set (sacrificing some Intelligence and crit chance) but the actual effective damage was much higher with the set bonuses in play.
This was also the point in time when I added the two additional legendary gems to Skulla's gear setup. The player gets to run three of them in total (socketed into the three jewelry slots) and I had been using Enforcer for some time without adding the other two legendary gems. They can actually be a detriment at low gem ranks since they require using up an item affix on the socket itself. After the mandatory choice of Enforcer for the minion damage bonus, I didn't have anything too obvious for Skulla to grab in the other slots. I ended up going with Bane of the Powerful again (as pictured above) since the general consensus is that this is the best all-purpose legendary gem for the lategame. Elites are common enough that the damage bonus is in effect permanently and it also helps to stay alive against the game's most dangerous opponents. For the last choice, I decided to try Moratorium again since that had been highly useful for Snowbelle. Delaying some of the incoming damage and shifting it into a damage over time effect would give me a better chance to react and get Skulla out of whatever perilous situation he found himself in.
Skulla was proving to be powerful enough that I ended up skipping right over Torment XII and went to Torment XIII difficulty instead. To put this another way, the addition of the Endless Walk set proved to be worth about a full difficulty level's worth of power for my Necromancer. Monsters had five time as much health on Torment XIII and about double the damage as compared to the previous Torment XI, making this a good test of Skulla's newly upgraded capabilities. I took the time to run through a full collection of bounties as usual, continuing to save up more of the Horadric Cache crafting materials. I was still using them to reroll the stats on Skulla's spare Jesseth Skullscythe, hoping to find an ancient version of the weapon. He would need that sooner or later if he was ever going to climb to the top of the difficulty ratings ladder.
I also need to mention one other change: I went ahead and switched up the graphics settings on my laptop. I deliberately turned up the lighting and the contrast to make it easier to see what was going on. The default shadows were nice and atmospheric for the game's horror vibe, but I preferred actually being able to see what the heck was going on during chaotic fights. Compare the image above to this one from an earlier part of Skulla's report to get an idea of what I'm talking about. I'm too old at this point to spend my time squinting at dark corners trying to figure out what might be hiding in there.
I'd been focusing my item efforts heavily on rings, both gambling them with blood shards and upgrading rare rings into legendary ones using the Hope of Cain recipe in Kanai's Cube. I was hoping to find the Circlet of Nailuj's Evol for the first time, or alternately another version of Krysbin's Sentence (having salvaged the original one into the cube), or perhaps a better version of the Compass Rose since I didn't love the stats on the version that Skulla himself was using. Fortunately the Cube recipe came through for Skulla and he finally hit on Nailuj's Evol at this late date in his career. This is one of the most important items for the summoning Necromancer to find, changing the Skeletal Mage skill so that it raises two skeletons at once and causes them to last for an additional 4 seconds. I immediately salvaged this into the cube and equipped the unique property in the jewlery slot, giving up Krysbin's Sentence for the moment. It made a gigantic difference for Skulla in battle, far easier to trigger the full 4000% damage bonus from the Rathma set with just two castings instead of four, and made it practical to hit the full 10 skeletal archer limit for the first time. The skeletons lasted for almost twice as long and appeared at double the rate - it was hard to do much better than that!
As a result, my screenshots moving forward show a noticeable difference. Whereas previously it was rare for Skulla to have more than four or five skeletal archers on the field at the same time, from this point on he would almost always be sitting at the maximum number of ten:
Yeah, that was more like it! This was the image that I'd had in my mind when I first thought about putting this character together and it was finally playing out in practice. With a full assortment of 18 total minions including the skeletal warriors and the golem, Skulla felt like he was commanding a field army once again. The skeletal archers obviously outputted a tremendous amount of damage thanks to the Rathma + Jesseth Arms + Enforcer bonuses, but one thing that I hadn't considered before starting this character was their additional defensive capabilities. The skeletal archers were not ethereal ghosts that enemies could pass through, and they would instead block for Skulla if they were positioned correctly. Incoming projectiles in particular were often intercepted by the skeletal archers, as they stood in place and tanked arrows or fireballs that were intended for Skulla. Since the minions continued to be (nearly) immortal, this was a big win as far as I was concerned. Sitting inside a firing nest of skeletal archers while tossing out curses at the monsters was a ton of fun.
While Skulla was exploring his way through Torment XIII difficulty, I came across a new item find that changed his equipment once again: an ancient legendary version of Krysbin's Sentence! That was as good as I could hope to find and it even had Intelligence, Vitality, and crit chance on it (albeit with a low roll on the crit chance). Unfortunately I had been using a really good version of the Ring of Royal Grandeur with perfect rolls on both crit chance (+6%) and crit damage (+50%). Giving that up was going to be painful: -14.4% damage, ouch! At least it was balanced out by a corresponding increase of 10% in toughness which would help survivability. This was also a case of where I couldn't obsess too much over the raw numbers displayed on the items. It was clearly worthwhile to accept a modest loss in stats to pick up a highly useful additional unique property. Krysbin's Sentence would increase damage by 85% against any monster hit by Decrepify and by 250% against anything stunned by Skulla's Bone Spikes. It was always noticeable when the Krysbin's damage bonus kicked in and I was quite pleased to have both Krysbin and Nailuj in effect at the same time.
Of course, this also meant giving up Pride's Fall for the Rathma helmet to keep the full set bonus now that the Ring of Royal Grandeur was swapped out. The stat tradeoff wasn't as bad here (in part because the rolls had been underwhelming on the ancient legendary item) and I didn't especially need the unique property of resource cost reduction from Pride's Fall. Nonetheless, I did want to try to find an ancient version of Rathma's Skull Helm if at all possible. Certain item slots have more important stat bonuses than others, and the helmet slot is one of the most important in that regard.
What followed next for Skulla was a long sequence of running Rift 60 dungeons over and over again in the Greater Nephalem Rifts. His Bane of the Powerful and Moratorium gems were significantly under-ranked and I wanted to get them both up to roughly Rank 50 as soon as possible. If Skulla was going to make use of these gems, I wanted to have them at an appropriate rank for the full benefit. Rank 60 (roughly equivalent to Torment XIII difficulty) turned out to be a breeze for Skulla to complete. The progress bar on the right side of the screenshot above suggested as much, and this particular rift clear finished with 10:19 remaining on the clock, not even remotely close to running out of time. Rift 60 delivered up a lot of blood shards and Paragon experience each time that it was completed, more than enough to make these repeated clears worthwhile. Skulla had finally reached a high enough Torment difficulty that he could assign all of his accumulated Paragon levels and even begin earning new ones at a good rate. He wasn't just freeriding off his predecessors any more, he was contributing to the shared pool of experience in earnest.
I also started to see additional primal ancient legendary items:
Not useful ones, mind you, but it was still pretty cool to see them appearing at all. Why couldn't that have been the Rathma pants instead of the Inarius ones going primal ancient? Heh. I wasn't sure if the drop rate had been increased since the last time that I played or if I was just being a bit luckier. A quick Google search suggests that nothing had changed and the odds are still about 1 in 500 for a legendary item to roll as primal ancient. I think that Snowbelle had been somewhat unlucky to find none of these items after she unlocked the possibility for them to appear while Skulla was getting a few more than expected. Then again, by the time that the player hits the upper reaches of the Torment difficulties, you do start to find a *LOT* of legendary items in general. At least a couple of them will start popping up as primal ancient barring truly awful luck.
Now here was something else that I hadn't been thinking about at all. Shortly after I equipped the full Rathma set of gear (as opposed to wearing five items along with the Ring of Royal Grandeur), this piece of paper named the Tome of Set Dungeons, Page 86 appeared from one of the enemies. It was a clue pointing to the location of the set dungeon for the Bones of Rathma, which of course I deciphered using the skeleton key of another Google search. This place is pretty well hidden in Act Two, requiring the player to backtrack from the Temple of the Firstborn by going out the entrance and moving back into the connecting cave. There are no bounties located in this area and it's not part of the base campaign so I had never been here before. Soon I came across the glowing green portal serving as the gateway to the set dungeon and hopped inside along with the rest of the skeleton army.
Like all of the other set dungeons, the one for the Bones of Rathma set tasks players with completing a series of challenges associated with the item set. There were two goals here: raise 100 skeletal mages (check, easy to do) and gain 500 seconds of cooldown reduction on Army of the Dead (nope!) That secondary objective was never going to happen since Skulla was prohibited from making use of the Army of the Dead skill by variant rule. As a result I didn't worry about the objectives and simply cleared out this side dungeon in normal fashion, meeting the goal of raising 100 skeletal mages without any trouble along the way. Unlike every other part of the Reaper of Souls expansion, the enemies in the set dungeons do not scale with the difficulty level and remain locked in place at one set of stats. I think that they were roughly equivalent to Torment VII difficulty or something along those lines, which of course meant that Skulla's minions slaughtered them with reckless abandon. Enemies in Torment XIII difficulty were averaging around 5 to 10 billion HP and these poor saps had something like 50 to 100 million HP apiece - that's about 100 times less health. Long story short, this was an easy clear of the area that did not achieve the Army of the Dead objective. The reward for completing all of the objectives is a hideous pair of bat wings that I would never use anyway, so uh, yeah, not really a big deal. (I really don't know why the supposedly top-end cosmetic rewards in Reaper of Souls are comically ugly wings and pennants that make the characters look like idiots. Is this all an elaborate practical joke on the part of the designers? I mean, they can't think those designs look good, right?)
Once I was finished upgrading all of Skulla's legendary gems up to at least Rank 50, I decided to increase the difficulty level once again to Torment XIV and see how Skulla fared there. My general sense was that Skulla was keeping up in terms of damage output just fine, still maintaining a healthy clear pace and never needing to worry about triggering the Enrage timer on any of the major bosses. The Butcher as pictured above continued to die in less than a minute's time, although Skulla wasn't able to manage the near-instant kills that he'd pulled off earlier in the game. However, much as had been the case with Snowbelle, increasingly I had to be more worried about Skulla's survivability. The damage output of the enemies on the upper Torment difficulties is enormous and almost anything can kill your character, or at least trigger Skulla's Final Service death-defying passive. Some of the worst offenders were small things that could easily be overlooked in chaotic fights, things like the exploding cactus plants in the Dahlgur Oasis or the fire traps in the Arreat Crater. These seemingly trivial background doodads were one-shot kills for Skulla, triggering his Final Service and forcing me to head back to town for safety. I noticed this happening significantly more often here as Skulla drew closer towards the ending stages of the gameplay.
I was continuing to look for upgrades to Skulla's jewelry and his weapon. I managed to get lucky and find another version of the Traveler's Pledge amulet, purely from a random monster drop, and I was able to reroll the item into a very strong offensive stat setup. As compared to the previous version of the same item, I was dropping a poor Vitality roll in exchange for a better Intelligence roll and both crit chance and crit damage. This was a net gain even as it did reduce survivability to a somewhat dangerous degree. Then I finally managed to hit on another crucial item for Skulla's overall setup:
There it was: the ancient version of his weapon the Jesseth Skullscythe. This wasn't luck at all, as I'd been rerolling this item constantly in Kanai's Cube while also using my extra Death's Breaths to upgrade rare scythes in the hopes of getting the same effect. This successful hit came from upgrading a rare scythe into the Jesseth Skullscythe, something that has pretty good odds to happen since there's only about five different unique scythes in the game. Overall, I think I found about a dozen different versions of the Jesseth Skullscythe before getting one of them to pop up as ancient - I'd been trying to land this item for quite some time. Anyway, the stat comparison between the ancient and non-ancient versions of the weapon helped to demonstrate why this find was so important. The weapon slot is the single most important one in the whole game, thanks to the way in which everything in Diablo 3 scales off of weapon damage, and now Skulla was finally getting out from under the penalty of using a non-ancient weapon. I landed very good rolls on Intelligence and Vitality (1000 is the maximum for both stats) along with significantly higher base damage and added damage. Total DPS rating increased by a full 25%, gigantic for this stage of the game! This was the last remaining piece that Skulla needed to move into the true endgame for Diablo 3.
Before heading there, I thought that I'd close out Torment XIV difficulty by finishing up with the remaining bounties and paying a visit to Diablo. I had faced him a bunch of times before with Skulla and found Big D to be a rather pathetic figure, crumbling almost immediately under a hail of blows from the skeletal minions. On this occasion, despite being beefed up with all those difficulty levels worth of more stats, I still found Diablo's healthbar to collapse in rapid fashion. You're supposed to face three shadow clones in the Realm of Terror, and Skulla only hit two of them because his minions were killing the shadow Diablo so fast that the game couldn't cycle through to the last clone. However, Diablo's damage output had gone up to an almost unfathomable degree since our last meeting, and he now had the ability to deal genuine damage to Skulla. One of his abilities hit Skulla and triggered the Final Service passive instantly; I'm not even sure what it was, just that the little indicator popped up indicating that Skulla had dropped temporarily to zero HP. It wasn't the Lightning Breath of Doom or another one of the flashier abilities, I would have known if I'd been tagged by them. Afterwards, I backed off and kept as much distance as possible from the boss, leaving Diablo barely even on the screen while the minions finished up beating him to death over the next 15 seconds. Whew, this wasn't quite as easy as I'd been expecting.
And with that, it was time to head into the final endgame portion of the character run with Skulla. How would he handle the top difficulty level and how many Greater Rifts would he be able to complete? We were about to find out in the final days yet to come.